Tales from the Trail

Obama gets custom-made New Balance running shoes

President Barack Obama is well known as a basketball fanatic, but he might feel more like going for a jog after receiving a custom-made pair of New Balance running shows, embroidered with the words “President” and “Obama,” on them Friday night in Maine.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or free sneakers, however. Obama will also get a nudge from a Maine lawmaker to require that the Department of Defense outfit service members with domestically-produced athletic shoes.

Mike Michaud, who represents Maine’s Second Congressional District, picked up Obama’s size 12D gray sneakers on Friday from New Balance’s facility in Norridgewock, central Maine. He will present the shoes at an Obama fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art.

Michaud has been working on the defense issue since last year to promote manufacturing growth in his state. Maine is historically a major footwear manufacturer which has seen its production undercut by foreign competition. In all, tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in the footwear industry have moved overseas.

“The workers in Norridgewock produced a pair of high-quality sneakers, and I’m proud to be able to deliver this Maine-made product to the President,” Michaud said. “I’m hopeful he’ll make this policy change so that we can create more jobs in Maine. We also need to be doing whatever we can to encourage domestic procurement government-wide.”

Skipping Super PAC, Santorum backer Friess spends on his own

By Alina Selyukh and Alexander Cohen

Republican Rick Santorum’s main financial backer has gone rogue on the pro-Santorum “Super PAC” with his own, personal spending in support of the U.S. presidential hopeful.

Wyoming millionaire investor Foster Friess has given $1.6 million to the independent political action committee (PAC) backing Santorum – the Red, White and Blue Fund – as its largest donor.

Now he has bypassed the Super PAC and spent $1,176 on a pro-Santorum radio ad entirely on his own, according to a report with the Federal Election Commission posted online on Thursday.

Who’s out of touch? Biden takes aim at Romney on economy

Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday accused Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney of disregarding the importance of the manufacturing sector as a source of jobs for middle class Americans and said the former Massachusetts governor had offered “consistently wrong” remedies for the U.S. economy.

In a campaign speech in Davenport, Iowa, a key battleground state in the general election, Biden also said Romney showed a lot of “chutzpah” by suggesting President Barack Obama was “out of touch” with ordinary Americans.

“Out of touch? Romney?” Biden said to laughter from his audience at an Iowa factory. “I mean, pretty remarkable, pretty remarkable.”

Herman Cain’s bizarre bunny-shooting video

Former pizza magnate Herman Cain has been out of the presidential race for months, but don’t tell him that. Cain, who held the lead among Republican candidates before a series of sexual harassment allegations surfaced – admittedly, well before a single vote was cast – continues to seek relevance by pumping out campaign-like material on his web site and various social media outlets.

On Monday, a new Cain Solutions spot under the current umbrella of “Sick of Stimulus” drew the ire of animal lovers and was briefly pulled from the website YouTube.

The 37-second “Sick of Stimulus” spot, entitled “Rabbit,” showed a young girl holding a large, cute, black and white Easter bunny. “This is small business,” says the girl. “This is small business under the current tax code,” she adds, placing the rabbit into what looks like a cozy straw bed but is in fact a catapult. The bunny – now animated, not real – is then hurled into the air, where an actor dressed in a suit blows it to pieces with a shotgun.

Santorum swears while chewing out reporter

Republican hopeful Rick Santorum cursed during an angry exchange with a New York Times reporter on Sunday, casting a shadow on the image he’s crafted as a social conservative and Christian candidate, and giving fodder to critics who are calling it the “the latest tantorum” meltdown.

At a rally in Wisconsin, a reporter questioned Santorum about calling his rival, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “the worst Republican” to run against Democratic President Barack Obama. In an earlier speech Santorum equated health care legislation enacted during Romney’s governorship of Massachusetts with Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul.

Visibly annoyed, Santorum asked the reporter, “What speech did you listen to?” and told him to “stop lying.” After accusing the reporter and the media in general of disregarding the truth, Santorum cursed before shaking his head and walking away.

Washington Extra – Tactical, not terminal

The predominant media narrative was pretty straightforward:  U.S. soldier kills 16 Afghan civilians, the Taliban respond by suspending participation in U.S.-sponsored Afghan peace talks. Game over.

Or maybe not. As Missy Ryan reports today, efforts by the Obama administration to cajole the Taliban into peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while not exactly roaring forward, are not dead. U.S. officials see the Taliban move as tactical, not terminal, and more of a reflection of internal divisions within the movement than anything else. “Deep breaths, and not hyperventilation, are required here,” said one of the many U.S. officials Reuters interviewed.

The Taliban also appear put out that President Obama has not yet transferred senior Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to kick-start the talks. That’s a problem for Obama, who faces intense resistance to sending the Talibs to detention in Qatar. That Qatar has yet to agree to U.S. demands they be held under strict conditions further complicates matters.

Romney’s small dollar disconnect

After his win in Illinois on Tuesday, Mitt Romney is looking to convince Republicans around the country that he’s their ultimate nominee.

But despite his lead in the delegate count, Romney continues to lag behind his rivals in raising money from so-called small-dollar donors, supporters who donate less than $200. Donations from people who contributed less than $200 — often viewed as a gauge of popular appeal — are filed as “unitemized” donations with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

FEC filings on Tuesday showed Romney’s campaign has so far raised $7.5 million from small donors, which comprises only 10 percent of his fundraising. That proportion has roughly remained the same throughout the campaign.

Washington Extra – Etch A Sketch

Ah, if life were only like an Etch A Sketch, a little shake would allow us to erase those mistakes and messy parts. But to invoke the magical toy to explain Mitt Romney’s presidential hopes might have been a mistake, one worth erasing with a shake.

It seems that every Romney win is followed by a Romney gaffe. This time, after his Illinois victory last night, it was not the candidate who stepped in it, but rather his adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, who wanted to talk about what Romney would be like in a general election against President Obama.

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again,” Fehrnstrom told CNN.

No doubts as to Obama’s Irish Ancestry now

By Samson Reiny
Playing with one of the more enduring controversies of his administration, President Obama joked on Tuesday that he had the perfect place for a gift confirming his Irish heritage: right next to his much ballyhooed birth certificate.

Visiting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny gave Obama the “formal certificate” at an evening reception in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, which earlier saw Maryland Governor Martin  O’Malley singing upbeat Gaelic-inspired tunes alongside a band.

“This will have a special place of honor alongside my birth certificate,” Obama said to raucous applause and laughter.

Will Romney’s “dog problem” hound him forever?

Given the widespread publicity that Mitt Romney’s “dog problem” continues to receive – it was on the front page of the Washington Post just last week – it’s no surprise that a polling group decided to see if the issue could resonate at the ballot box, or merely be the crate-gate scandal that launched a thousand late-night jokes.

The story, discovered by the Boston Globe in 2007, goes something like this. In 1983 Romney, then a 36-year-old rising star in the private equity world, loaded up the family station wagon with five sons and luggage for a long trek from Boston to Ontario, Canada. Seamus, the family’s Irish Setter, was put into his dog crate, which was then strapped to the top of the car. Romney’s plan was to make the 12-hour drive with customary pinpoint precision, stopping just once for gas, snacks and ablutions. But Seamus, whether terrified or over-excited, at some point soiled himself, as the boys discovered when they saw brown liquid running down the car window. Romney, the efficiency expert, quickly pulled into a nearby gas station to hose down the car, and the dog, calm down the kids, and get back on the road.

The ancient tale has spawned dozens of newspaper articles and television segments, especially as Romney has become 2012’s presumptive GOP nominee. It has also created its own protest movement, Dogs Against Romney, which has close to 42,000 followers on Facebook.